SY 2017-2018: First Week Report

July heat is upon us and for our family that means back to school!

The way our year-round homeschool schedule works, we school for 6 week terms with a week off in between. On top of those break weeks, we take December entirely off as well as 6-8 weeks (depending on when we end in May and when 4th of July lands) in the early summer.

This works for us because the weather is gorgeous in May and June and too hot in July and August. Plus, we have local (neighborhood, to boot) friends who have adopted our school calendar, too, so the kids have playmates on break weeks.

So that means while some families have hardly begun their summer break, we’re wrapping ours up and starting fresh. It works for us – this is the 10th year we’ve done it this way.

However, we’re not starting everything this first term. Our classes – Elementary Lessons twice a week, a lit & writing class for the high schooler, and logic & poetics for the middle schooler – don’t start until the end of August. During this term, we get our own family and independent workflows practiced and ironed out first.

The 5-year-old has been pestering for “real math” since May, complaining all summer break that we never do math (no one else was complaining!).

I had ordered a copy of MUS Primer for her, but didn’t really want her to start until after she was 5, at least. So I made 7 copies of several pages from each of the first 10 lessons from Primer – mostly counting and number-writing lessons – to put on her new pink clipboard.

So, she’s happy.

Morning Time with us, a “real” math page, plus 1 day of phonics this week. A good week for a Pre-K 4-year-old.

Finding & Filling the Chinks

The first week is the week I discover the chinks in my plan and have to patch them up – it’s good to go into the week expecting that.

The first day back to math was rough – except for the aforementioned 4-yearold – with one child adding 3-digit numbers from left to right and tanking xtramath scores. I forgot that the distractible 7-year-old requires supervision while doing his drill. My bad.

By the end of the week, though, most of the kids are caught up to the lessons they left off with in May.

I started Latin with the 7- and 9- year-olds, but discovered that the Primer A lessons hadn’t been ripped onto our home network server. I assumed since B & C were there, A was, too. So we did some chanting this week and my husband got A ripped and organized so we can play it through our network system. We’ll start lesson 1 next week and be none the worse for wear.

Using StartWrite pages with Spelling Wisdom selections (1 per week, practiced daily) seems to be working well for the two elementary students, but I discovered this couldn’t be independent work. Even with the tracing and the lines, handwriting was too sloppy. I’d like my 9-year-old to be comfortable with cursive this year and my 7-year-old to become legible — this week I learned that I’d have to sit with them while they write if these goals are to be realized. Sigh.

They both cheerfully picked a biography to read during our Monday Meeting. Ilse picked William the Conqueror and Knox picked Good Queen Bess; I was surprised by both their choices. Knox finished his book Saturday, but Ilse regretted her choice by chapter 3 and tried to get out of reading it – first by not doing it, then by whining, then by negotiating. I told her she had to at least give the book until chapter 6 before deciding it was boring, because sometimes good books are slow to start and we have to give them enough time before deciding we don’t like them. So William the Conqueror will be her week 2 biography, also.

Content lessons – history, science, etc. – for these middle students are part of Elementary Lessons, which won’t begin until the last week of August, so their school day is quite light – perfect for summer.

The 7th-grader enjoyed his options to draw narrations for The Iliad, The Odyssey, and Herodotus for Boys & Girls. He developed a color-coding system for his new Book of Centuries and commonplace notebook to take full advantage of having a set of colored pens all his own.

My high school student actually told me on Friday that he really enjoyed his history books even though they had looked intimidating at first, and he gave an insightful narration of the first chapter of Basic Christianity by John Stott.

In addition to our Monday Meeting where we lay out the assignments for the week, my high schooler and I had a meeting over lunch on Friday – up in my room with the door closed, away from the noise – where we discussed the history and Bible readings as well as how the week went.

The 7th grader and I also had a discussion date at 6:15am Friday before anyone else was supposed to be up (but others were). I had hoped to do a grammar lesson and lit discussion and history narration during this time, but one meeting was all it took to see that was too much. Grammar will happen after Monday Meetings and we’ll walk through exercises together, and leave our Friday discussion date as discussion only. I want him to look forward to it, after all.

Over the course of the week we had a few misunderstandings about what some tasks meant, what checking items off a list meant, what finished work meant. Turned out some tasks didn’t get copied onto each day’s list for some. A brief Saturday investigation turned up undone work – but, the week’s work was accomplished before the end of the week in the end, so it’s all good. It was a good reminder to me to always inspect what I expect – always.

If I don’t care enough to follow up, it won’t be long before they don’t care enough to do it at all. We should at least start the year with caring and setting good precedents.

This is what the first week is for, really: getting familiar with the new books, new assignments, and new patterns. I pay attention a bit more closely to make sure I’ve communicated clearly and been complete in my preparations – and so I find out where I wasn’t. I always miss and mess up something – so I watch and wait and see what it will be this time.

First Week: Working It Out

It’s worth it to start our year in the summer for the regular breaks we get to take the rest of the year, but there are logistical difficulties, especially as we have more and older students who tend to have different needs and different preferences.

When it was only my own preferences that mattered, we started the day with Morning Time and maybe math, then took the morning to play (or do swimming lessons or meet up with friends or run errands), then did school in the afternoon (which used to be nap time).

Now I have some children who want to run outside and frolic as soon as they can in the morning, and others who want to finish their work first and play in the afternoon (it sounds like a strong work ethic, but it’s actually because their neighborhood friend isn’t available to play until the afternoon). So I roll with it and eventually, haphazardly, we get it done. In the fall we’ll settle into routine, but part of the summer school term is keeping things more free-flowing so we can take advantage of weather, of events (like morning tennis lessons all next week), and of park days with friends.

The first week back is also where I remember why I ended the year tired. There are a lot of details to track, a lot of questions being asked, a lot of supplies strewn everywhere. There’s just a lot.

Next week I’ll show you how I’m tracking those details so that I can keep 5 kids (mostly) productively occupied and getting their work done.

4 Responses

  1. Christy
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    Looking forward to hearing about how you’re tracking everything. I’m in the process of planning out this coming year…first time with all 4 in school. The oldest will be 9th grade, and the youngest will be K. I’m especially interested in how you’re tracking everything for high school. I’ve been using a form similar to your fill-in-the-circle forms for tracking the younger kids, and we tried Trello last year for the oldest. It was good, but finicky. Sometimes it was hard to get it to work on the iPad, so he requested to go back to paper this year. Working on that.
    I’m wondering how you grade high school and how you’re keeping track of grades. I like your schooling style – classical CMish with real books! – and although we’re not doing exactly the same thing, it appeals to me so much more than traditional schooling. And I wonder then how grading goes with that kind of schooling. Do your kids take tests (besides math)? If not, how do you determine a grade? I’m mainly referring to high school.

    • Mystie Winckler
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      We don’t even do math tests. :) Our state requires standardized testing every year, so we do that to jump through the hoop. There are lots of factors that go into deciding the best way to prepare your own high schooler, but for us, we’re not giving grades or changing the way we educate. We can add the layers of school-speak if we need them, but a grade is a way for a teacher to communicate how the student is doing to the student, the parent, and the administration – we don’t need grades, because we talk and know and our standard is to revise/correct all work and never leave anything a “B” or “C.” Our state university requires for homeschool admission a “resume” rather than a “transcript” with subjects studied and the texts used, plus SAT scores.

      However, because our plan is for him to go to the community college for his junior & senior year, there’s even less reason for me to worry about it. He’ll get grades, have a GPA, and if we wanted to, he could even get enough credits in two years to count as 4 years of high school without anything from home counting.

      I graduated homeschool-all-the-way through, had a homeschool-issued diploma and transcript, an AA degree, and a decent (not amazing) SAT score. It was no big deal to get into college, and universities didn’t even have special homeschool policies yet at that time. So, I’m not worried. We’re not going to be trying to get into any flashy uppercrust university. :)

      • Christy
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        This makes so much sense. I love the standard of correcting everything to an A. And we’re on a similar track for taking CC classes in 11th-12th and definitely not going for admittance to an elite university. I should look into the requirements at our state universities. We don’t have the state requirement here for standardized testing, but we’ve done it every few years anyway to keep a general idea in mind of how the older kids are doing. Guess I just need to do my research, take a deep breath, and relax. :-) Thanks for your response!

  2. Tristan RowLee
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    Mystie, it was so fun to read this today! Sounds like a wonderful start to the new year. We start up in a week and I’m trying to wrap my head around the final details for “Plan #1”. I know it will need tweaked as we see who needs help with what. I’ll admit I’m a wee bit overwhelmed thinking about it this year. We have always homeschooled, so that’s not the issue. The issue is finding enough of me to go around! This year kids are grades: 11, 7, 6, 4, 3, 1, K, PreK4, PreK3 – and I’m due with baby #10 in the winter. I’ve got 3 kids needing reading lessons while at the other end of the spectrum there is Chemistry, Algebra 2, and high school Latin. Plus everything in between. ;)
    I know God’s already got it all figured out. I can’t wait to see what ideas he leads me to as we move through the first weeks of the school year!